How to Square Your Fabric

Hey, you!

If you’re here, I know that you must have pre-washed your fabric, dried it, and ironed it.

And now you’re ready to make sure your fabric is square.

Failure to check that your fabric is squared or grain perfect before you layout and cut will result in a garment that feels uncomfortably twisty on your body and that has a fugly, saggy hemline.

And we got no time for any of that nonsense, do we?!

So, let’s learn how to get our fabric grain perfect…

NOTE: This article may contain affiliate links. Please read my full disclosure HERE.

On Grain or Square Defined

When a length of fabric is on grain (square), all of the following statements are true:

  • the selvages are perfectly aligned;
  • the fold is smooth and flat; and
  • the cut edges are striaght AND the four corners are at right angles

See what I mean?!

The fold is nice and flat.

And both of the cut ends are even and perpendicular to the selvages.

Pro tip: When buying your fabric, make sure the previous cut on the bolt was even. Do NOT let the cutter cut your length uneven. Because if you have to straighten the grain, you may lose precious yardage that you’ve paid for!

Now, let’s learn how to check if our length of fabric is grain perfect…

How to Check If Your Woven Fabric Is On Grain

In order to check if your length of fabric is on grain (square)…

FIRST, fold your length of fabric until the selvages meet and match up with the folded edge closest to you.

Now smooth your fabric until it is nice and flat.

length of off-grain fabric on a cutting mat

In the image above, look at those uneven cut ends at the top and the bottom.

And that fold on the left is a hot, wonky mess!

Mm. Can you now begin to imagine how awful a garment made with this off-grain fabric would look and feel to wear?!

Not. Good.

Okay, then…

So where do we begin to fix the wonky, hot mess in the image above?!

Well, there are several methods you can choose from…

How to Square Woven Fabric

When it comes to how to square your fabric, you have choices.

Which one you choose will depend on the weave of your fabric and your preferences.

Once you’ve attempted to straighten the grain, it is important to retest by folding your fabric, selvage to selvage, and checking the fold.

The Tear Method

Make a little snip in the shortest of the two selvages. And then, tear the fabric from one selvage to the other selvage. Repeat on the other cut end if it also uneven.

This method works with medium-weight plain weave wovens. It will not work with satin or twill weave wovens.

And it is also not ideal for linens and other thin fabrics, because of the resulting distortion of the fabric.

So while tearing the fabric may be easier than pulling a thread, I don’t use it. Because I don’t do fugly!

Pull a Single Thread Method

I’ll be honest with you, with this method, you will need that jar of patience I mentioned HERE!

If your fabric is too tightly woven, a linen, or very thin, you will most likely not be able to tear it.

So you will have to pull a thread. Here are the five steps:

First, make a snip in the shortest selvages.

snipping one selvage

Next, carefully pull a SINGLE, crosswise thread. It will gather as you pull.

pulling a single crosswise thread

The thread will break at some point, probably more than once. Just smooth out the gathered area. Then, take your shears, find the fine line the pulled thread has left behind, and cut up to the point where the thread broke.

cutting along the fine line

Then, pick up the same thread and continue pulling it until you reach the other selvage.

continue pulling thread and cutting until you reach the other selvage

Repeat on the other cut end if it is also uneven.

Phew! I know that took forever, but you’re done now.

Now, refold the fabric, aligning the selvages with each other again and smooth your fabric until it is nice and flat.

Assess: Are both of the cut ends straight? And do all four corners form right angles?! Right angles rule!

Pulling on the Bias

Well, after trying one of the above methods, your fabric may still have the audacity to be off grain?

This means it is time for a little tough love.

Here’s how you pull on the bias…

pull on the bias to square fabric

  1. Gently but firmly grasp the short ends of the fabric.
  2. Then, pull the short ends along the bias in the direction it needs to be straightened.
  3. Do this until your edges are even and ALL four corners form perfect right angles!

If your length of fabric is long, you will have to do this in sections.

Truth is, pulling on the bias can help a lot, a little, or not at all. It depends on the quality of your fabric.

If you’re feeling frustrated right now, can I tell you secret?!

Better quality fabrics are generally not off grain. This is just another reason to invest in the best quality fabric you can afford!

Pro tip: Be careful when pulling printed fabrics on the bias. You don’t want to distort the prints.

The Waste of Squaring Wovens

Whether you tear or pull a thread, there can be a lot of waste of your precious fabric…

pile of fabric wasted from squaring fabric

Therefore, you might want to buy an extra ¼ yard of fabric to account for any you might lose as a result of squaring your fabric.

Alright, it’s time to talk about squaring knits…

How to Square Knits

While knits are a little more forgiving than wovens, it is still important to make sure that they are are also squared before you layout and cut.

With knits, you cannot tear, pull a thread, or pull on the bias.

You could…

Method 1

squaring knits - method 1

  1. Turn your knit fabric on its right side (RS). And locate a single column of “v” stitches.
  2. Then, mark this column from one cut end to the other cut end with a chalk wheel or ballpoint straight pins.
  3. And then fold along the marked line.
  4. Now, you’re ready to place your pattern pieces that call to be placed on the fold.

BUT honestly…

Who has the time, the eyesight, and/or the patience for all this?!

Not me!

Method 2 and 3

So depending on my mood and the project…

  • I create an expanded pattern and cut out my knit garment in a single layer (we’ll learn more about this later); or
  • From the RS, I eyeball it and get as close as I can to a straight column of “v” stitches (see image below).

eyeball finding the grainline on a knit

While knits are more forgiving than wovens, the diagonal slant shown in the image on the right is a definite no-go.

RELATED: Click here to learn everything you need to know about wovens and knits!

The End

Now, you know why it is ESSENTIAL for your fabric to be grain perfect BEFORE you layout, pin, cut, mark, and sew.

And you know how to make it so.

So if you’re square, let’s meet at the cutting table!

And remember…

Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!

RELATED: Click here to learn the essential sewing tools and supplies!

RELATED: Click here to learn all you need to know about your sewing machine, your Best Friend Forever (BFF)!

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